New Delhi: More than 25 million children under 2 years age were not immunized in 2016 with the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) that can prevent a child from contracting Pneumonia, revealed a report released by Save the Children, an international non-governmental organization promoting children’s rights.
Amid the health ministry’s ambitious Mission Indradhanush initiative aimed at ensuring full immunization of all children in India, the report released on Thursday also highlighted that Pneumonia killed 178,717 children in 2015 in India, or more than 20 children every hour.
Pneumonia was also the leading reason for 43 deaths per 1,000 live births under the age of 5. If the current trends continue, more than 22,587 children will die of Pneumonia in 2030, the report titled ‘Fighting for Breath’ said.
“Though Indian government has taken several steps to improve the health of children, India continues to top the world ranking in number of deaths due to Pneumonia and this is concerning," said Thomas Chandy, CEO of Save the Children in India.
“We estimate the number of unvaccinated children in the 0–2 age range in developing countries at around 170 million, with India dominating. There is also disturbing evidence that girls with severe Pneumonia cases are far less likely to receive care in South Asia—and that they are more likely to die as a result. Some of that evidence comes from India," he said.
The disease kills two children in the 2 to 5 age group, every minute—more than malaria, diarrhoea and measles combined. More than 80% of the victims are children under two years old, many with immune systems weakened by malnutrition or insufficient breastfeeding and unable to fight the infection. Infants are at their most vulnerable in the first weeks of life, the report said.
“The Government is making an all-out effort to combat Pneumonia and there has been satisfactory progress in recent times. However, we need to concentrate our efforts in reaching out to children who reside in remote locations and belong to the most marginalized communities. We will ensure that no child is left out," said minister of state for health and family welfare Ashwini Kumar Choubey.
For combating the problem, the report has recommended that the country should develop comprehensive national guidelines and multi-sectoral convergent action plans to tackle Pneumonia and ensure adequate resourcing for implementation at all levels.
The report has called for increased budget allocation for health and strengthening primary healthcare and facility based pediatric services by investing in infrastructure, equipment, skilled health personnel and addressing supply chain gaps.
“Ensure that Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) are trained and equipped to manage non severe cases of Pneumonia at the community level and that primary health care facility staff have a regular supply of life saving commodities," the report said.
The report recommended that the Indian government should ensure that national Health Management Information System (HMIS) reports regularly on childhood pneumonia deaths and standardize the recording and reporting mechanism at national, state, and sub-state levels.
“Promote the importance of clean cooking fuels, healthy nutrition practices, toilet use, hand washing, safe drinking water, sanitation, and accessing immunization," it further recommended.
Globally, over 920,000 children under 5 year of age died of Pneumonia in 2015. That’s two fatalities every minute of every day—more than diarrhoea, malaria and measles combined.
Most of the deaths happen in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Over 80% occur among children under two, many of them in the first weeks of life. The report said that PCVs could prevent most bacterial pneumonia cases, but 170 million children under age of 2 in developing countries are unimmunised.
One-third of children with Pneumonia-like symptoms do not seek appropriate care. Antibiotics, which could prevent 70% of all Pneumonia deaths, costing just $0.50 on average, are frequently not accessible and often unavailable.